The Montauk Charm
Montauk Seafood Grill, named for a Long Island surf town known for its plentiful seafood, is an upbeat place. Tables dressed in white linens and butcher paper make a stark contrast to the vividly painted fish napkin rings and pails of crayons. The tables seem closer together than they are, as one group of people is likely to be talking with another over the course of the evening.
“This place is built on energy. It’s rambunctious,” said Shawn Boris, co-owner. “We’ve always had the same goal – good food, nice people. It’s dinner, it shouldn’t be solemn and serious.”
There’s a good-natured hum of activity throughout the restaurant which, like its namesake, specializes in fresh seafood.
“We opened Montauk back when seafood became chic,” said Gary Boris, co-owner. “It wasn’t chic for me – it was just normal food.”
Montauk treats seafood with an affection born of long familiarity. There’s nothing chic about it; it’s just plain good. With connections like “The Scallop Lady” and “The Tuna People,” they know where to go for the freshest products available. Once securing those, there’s no need to cover the flavor with heavy sauces.
The appetizer list includes the prerequisite raw bar items, as well as calamari and mussels. The tuna tartare ($10.75) is unlike any in the valley. A spin-off of their signature ahi tuna entree, it incorporates an Asian-meets-island flair. Radiating out from a heap of fresh tuna are rays of fresh cilantro, toasted macadamia nuts and pineapple, turning the appetizer into an edible sun of sorts. Flash-fried wonton skins and a bowl of sweet soy sauce complete the dish, a self-service tostada bar. The combination of flavors and textures is the secret of its success: the crunch of the wonton skin is contrasted by the smooth raw tuna, the roasted crunch of the macadamias is set against the sweetness of the pineapple and bite of the cilantro.
This sort of contrast is key to the dishes of Montauk, where every flavor and texture meets its complementary opposite. The shrimp and scallion pot stickers ($9.95) are served with a crunchy, spicy slaw and scallion-infused ponzu sauce. The three crab and arugula salad ($12.95) is served with crisp cucumbers, a gazpacho vinaigrette and cumin creme fraiche. The portobello mushroom napoleon ($8.75), layered with peppers, spinach, pine nuts and goat cheese is good for non-fish eaters. Appetizers are appetizer portions, so as not to ruin the main dish.
For locals, Montauk is synonymous with Hawaiian ahi ($24.95), seared rare with vegetable stir fry, rock shrimp and a sticky rice cake that soaks up the soy-ginger sauce. When they tried to take it off the menu years ago, there was an uprising that convinced Gary not to try that stunt again.
“At this point, the only way I’d quit serving it is if I couldn’t get the high quality tuna,” he said.
Other summer menu mainstays include the mustard-and-herb-crusted halibut ($22.95) served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, sweet corn succotash and a red pepper coulis. The freshness of the succotash and the weight of the potatoes complement the white fish, and the coulis pulls it all together. The cedar plank barbecued salmon ($20.95) is, like it sounds, cooked on a piece of cedar. The effect is the lightest tinge of cedar smoke flavor. Glazed with a sweet chili sauce, it’s served with a rosemary-infused vegetable orzo and a tomato-cucumber salad.
For land lubbers, the sesame-glazed Long Island duckling ($21.95) comes with impossibly light wasabi mashed potatoes and ginger-glazed vegetables. Slicing the duck is akin to slicing through soft ice cream; the accompanying sauce has a hint of sweetness.
In addition to the regular menu, an insert lists the daily fish specials, served with a selection of sauces. As the summer progresses more Colorado produce will make its way onto the menu.
The atmosphere of Montauk is kick back; they encourage their diners to have a good time. The accommodating staff is knowledgeable about the menu, their wine list and service. Gary does all the hiring, and looks for specific characteristics rather than experience.
“I can teach you how to wait tables,” he said. “I can’t teach you to like people, or how to be conscientious. I want people who want to come to work. After 37 years in this business, I still like to come to work.”
Montauk is open for dinner nightly from 5:30 p.m. For more information or to make reservations call (970)476-2601.
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.